Row of 2011 Cadillac CTS-V Coupes at Monticello Motor Club

Row of 2011 Cadillac CTS-V Coupes at Monticello Motor Club

It's not often that a manufacturer has the courage to turn dozens of auto journalists loose on a racetrack with pricey copies of its new, 556-horsepower performance coupe.

So we were eager to get behind the wheel of the 2011 Cadillac CTS-V Coupe and find out whether it was as much fun as the CTS-V sedan that's been on sale for a year or so.

Short answer: Yep, it is. And even hotter looking.

The CTS-V Coupe is the rakish two-door coupe version of the better-known CTS-V four-door sedan. The "V" designates the performance version of Cadillac's rear-wheel-drive midsize model, aimed squarely at the BMW 5-Series, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, and the Audi A6.

In addition to the four-door sedan and the coupe, the CTS range includes a low-volume but very stylish station wagon (largely aimed at European buyers, who actually like wagons). A CTS-V wagon previewed at this year's New York Auto Show, so wait for that one next year.

The standard V-6 Coupe, which is just rolling out to dealers this month, was a surprise 2008 Detroit Auto Show concept. GM kept it completely under wraps until unveiling it in a kind of Steve Jobs, "Oh, and one more thing..." moment--to a rapturous reception from the auto press.

The production CTS-V Coupe was shown at this year's Detroit Auto Show, and our colleague Nelson Ireson was lucky enough to get a ride in it this May, but no wheel time.

Now both the standard coupe and the stomping V-8 "V" are coming onto the market, and we got to drive the latter. GM rented Monticello Motor Club--an exclusive private track normally only open to members--for two days, and set the auto press loose in a fleet of CTS-V coupes.

VIDEO: One lap at Monticello in a 2011 Cadillac CTS-V Coupe

Monticello's a challenging track or, as the pros say, "very technical." From off-camber blind esses to a very tight uphill U-turn, it requires a lot of learning to do well. Being our first time on the track, we focused on exploring the car and keeping it on the track.

Not that the CTS-V Coupe is a hard car to drive. It feels firmly planted at all times, on big 19x9-inch (front) and 19x9.5-inch (rear) wheels wrapped in sticky Michelin Pilot Sport 2 tires and a rear track 1 inch wider than the CTS-V sedan.

Row of 2011 Cadillac CTS-V Coupes at Monticello Motor Club

Row of 2011 Cadillac CTS-V Coupes at Monticello Motor Club

And with the traction control switch set to "off," the sensation of power-sliding a car with 556 horsepower of supercharged V-8 is addictive.

Despite our lack of track familiarity, we never once felt nervous in the big beast. It's that much fun.

Surprisingly, the ride quality is very good, courtesy of Cadillac's unique magnetic ride control suspension. It uses electric current to change the consistency of magnetorheological fluid in the shock absorbers multiple times a second, permitting independent control of each shock's compliance rate depending on driving conditions.

COMING SOON: Video of Cadillac powertrain engineer explaining the CTS-V's unique features

The engine is smooth and unobtrusive--Ireson called it "docile"--until it's unleashed. We wonder if the CTS-V Coupe might not be a handful around town due to such easy power availability, but we'll wait for our own road test before we render judgment.

The CTS-V is hardly a subtle car on the outside, with wider fenders, an aggressive metal mesh grille and air intake, and of course a splendid burble of an engine note. Which rises to a howl toward the redline.

The interior is fantastic, with its hand-finished cut-and-sew leather surfaces and chrome accents. It's a bold design, brasher than its German counterparts, but everything works together.

Quibbles? The coupe's rearward visibility isn't the greatest, though with cars carefully spaced out for individual laps, we had no need of rear-view mirrors at Monticello.  And, yeah, with the Recaro front seats, rear seat room may not be what a six-foot man might like. So?

As British auto writers used to say, the shifter "falls readily to hand," making the six-speed manual our favorite for track time over the six-speed automatic. The manual might be tedious around town, but it all depends how you might think you'll use your CTS-V.

We suspect that if you're one of the lucky owners--Cadillac says demand for their "V" models is running above projections--you'll be highly tempted to find out where you can put on some track time.

It's that much fun.

High Gear Media drove a manufacturer-provided vehicle to produce this hands-on road test.